The two-week cinematic sensation known as the Milwaukee Film Festival is sadly coming to a close Thursday night. However, that doesn't mean that there aren't interesting and entertaining movies left to see.
Of course, everybody knows about "The Sessions," the hit indie that's closing out the festival, but here are five other films worth checking out before the festival rolls its end credits.
In a festival full of documentaries about humanity doing wrong to one another, "The Jeffrey Dahmer Files" might be the most stomach-turning. Much of that is obviously due to the subject matter – the notorious Milwaukee serial killer and cannibal that became a national spectacle. Chris James Thompson doesn't spare many of the gruesome details, but that doesn't take from the chilling look into the Dahmer's effect on Milwaukee, as well as those who became close to him.
Thompson's documentary does use a lot of re-enactments that are well-made and look period accurate (minus a glaringly modern Miller Lite logo in the background of one scene), but don't add much to the story. They may be attempts to humanize Dahmer or show the mundanity of evil, but they just come off very one-note creepy. Luckily, the interviews, especially with lead detective Pat Kennedy, who finds himself uncomfortably bonding with the mentally unstable young man, are riveting. In the end, it's a suitably unnerving documentary about an equally unnerving topic.
Before you step into the theater to see "Klown," make sure you leave any shred of decency outside the auditorium's doors. The unapologetically improper Danish comedy has gained a lot of buzz on the festival circuit, and Warner Bros. is already planning a remake with Todd Phillips ("The Hangover") possibly set to direct.
Before America gets its grubby hands on the ribald buddy comedy, though, take a chance on the original. Its story – about a man trying to prove to his pregnant girlfriend that he's father material by taking a young boy on a canoeing trip to a bordello – takes a while to get the big laughs going. Once the film's jokes start tying together in the second half, though, it becomes a great exercise in lewd, should-I-be-laughing-at-this-oh-why-not hilarity. Plus, star Frank Hvam is just dopily sweet enough to make the coarseness go down smoothly. Just don't bring the parents, kids or anyone with a sense of morality.
"Sacrifice" may not have the enormous vistas and epically beautiful images that some of Asia's most popular imports ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Hero") have showcased over the years. Despite that fact, director Kaige Chen's film – a part of the festival's Passport: China series – still feels massive due to one big reason: the emotions.
The story, involving murdered families, baby-switching and obsessive quests for revenge, seems pretty melodramatic, but that's just because its emotions are so big and engulfing. It may be easy to push it aside as histrionic historical mayhem in the beginning (the convoluted "Game of Thrones"-esque web of characters off the bat doesn't help the immersion), but by the time "Sacrifice" reaches the final battle, it's hard not to get wrapped up in its characters' big emotional drama and even bigger emotional wounds.
Director Brad Lichtenstein's documentary about the state of Janesville and politics in the state of Wisconsin built some impressive viral hype when its trailer revealed Scott Walker's now infamous "Divide and Conquer" conversation. It was a mixed blessing; yes, it brought the film buzz, but it also created a notion that the film was an attack on Walker or a strongly partisan feature.
In reality, "As Goes Janesville" is anything but. The earnest and humanizing documentary is not an attack, but instead a startling glimpse into politics in Wisconsin and the polarized state of political dialogue. Lichtenstein finds some terrific subjects to follow, ranging from a business leader who just wants to build the Janesville community to where it could be, to Democratic Senator Tim Cullen, to a trio of workers caught in the middle of the political and economic moves.
With its large collection of characters, "As Goes Janesville" does lose a bit of focus. It could've perhaps cut one of the workers' storylines without losing much impact. However, as a sympathetic portrait of a disgruntled society on the edge, a look into the chilling spectacle that has become politics and a discussion spark plug, Lichtenstein's film hits home.
True confessions: I saw "17 Girls" on the first Sunday night of the festival. That's right; I skipped watching football in order to watch a French drama based on a true story about 17 teenage girls who make a pregnancy pact. If that's not a violation of some kind of man law, I don't know what is. What I do know, however, is that when I walked out of sibling writer/directors Delphine and Muriel Coulin's film, I was totally satisfied with my decision.
The plot provides a topic that would've been easy for the filmmakers to use for some moralizing on what's wrong with this generation. Instead, the Coulin sisters ask why some girls would choose such radical behavior. These girls aren't just doing this for conceited reasons; they're attempting to cope with the loneliness of such life-altering situations. Scattered throughout the film are quiet shots of young women sitting alone, worried. The audience knows their plan will inevitably fall apart, but there's also a sense that they're at least trying to do something. What results is a captivating, complex, wonderfully acted movie that currently stands as one of the year's best.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published July 5, 2015
It shouldn't have come as a surprise to see the Marcus Amphitheater a maybe generous 50 percent full - albeit an extremely enthusiastic and appreciative 50 percent - on Saturday night for The Avett Brothers. But while the bluegrass folk rock band had apparent problems filling the venue with fans, the band had no problem whatsoever completely filling the venue with strong, soulful music on the Fourth of July.
Published July 3, 2015
In fact, other than some busy confetti cannons - and I mean very busy - OK Go's 90-minute set pushed aside any sign of the viral video prop-heavy gimmickry the band is most famous for and instead relied on its power pop rock music and some charming banter to click with the Summerfest crowd. And, as it turns out, that was more than enough to deliver an awesome and entertaining evening.
Published July 2, 2015
Barely two years after his first show in 2013, WebsterX is now living his dream world he created of being a rap star. The 22-year-old rapper has risen to become one of the Milwaukee music scene's biggest stars, grabbing local and national headlines and, most recently, opening for global superstar Lupe Fiasco at the Miller Lite Oasis on Friday, July 3 at 8 p.m.
Published July 2, 2015
During his Amphitheater performance Wednesday night, Kendrick Lamar noted the last time he was here, "the energy was so motherf*ckin' loud," and if that was a 10, he wanted this show to hit a 12. Well, it certainly felt like a 12, with the packed crowd bobbing their heads, swaying their arms and just generally going crazy for every verse. And even though it barely lasted 60 minutes, Lamar's vigorous fireball of a set gave them plenty to go crazy about.
Published July 1, 2015
I'll admit it; before Tuesday night's Marcus Amphitheater show started up, one of those people was me. I wondered why a band, whose last seemingly notable moments came at the service of three-fourths of Michael Bay's "Transformers" franchise, was a Big Gig Amp headliner. Well, one large serving of crow, please, cooked medium rare.
Published June 30, 2015
Most bands desperately hope that their music videos will go viral. For pop rockers OK Go, at this point, it's almost expected. With a Summerfest headliner set scheduled for the Uline Warehouse on Thursday, July 2, I chatted with bassist/vocalist Tim Nordwind about the band's stories behind some of their viral sensations.
Published June 30, 2015
After traveling the globe in support of its star-making self-titled debut album, PHOX's tour is bringing the band right back to where its journey started in the first place: Wisconsin. Before it heads home to Baraboo, the band is dropping by its "home away from home" of Milwaukee to play Summerfest, opening for Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros on Thursday, July 2. Before then, we talked to Matt Holmen about his own fond Big Gig memories.
Published June 29, 2015
According to, well, herself, DJ Paris Hilton is one of the top paid DJs currently working. Unfortunately, much like the "Transformers" movies, her Summerfest set was one of those situations where the amount of the money involved was inversely proportionate to the amount of skill on display. Also like the "Transformers" films, it was loud, clunky, sporadically dull despite all of the noise, unnecessarily lengthy and, by the end, left me in a little bit of pain.
Published June 28, 2015
If you've seen Disney/Pixar's latest animated hit "Inside Out," there's a good chance a certain song has been rattling around in your mind ever since. No, not that TripleDent gum jingle, but the chorus to "Lava," the brief and beautifully rendered short about a volcanic island looking for love. While the short takes plenty of inspiration from Hawaii, as it turns out, Murphy's journey to get there made a stop right here in Milwaukee.
Published June 28, 2015
As clearly proved Saturday night at the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, "Shut Up And Dance" pop rockers Walk The Moon can now draw a packed house. The only question: Would they put on a show worthy of the face painted mob they gathered? Most certainly.